This Company Has A Wrap On Christmas Css Industries Has Major Part Of Gift-Wrapping Market

MONDAY, DEC. 23, 1996

James Baxter has to live with the fact people rip apart his company’s products, often as soon as they see them.

Indeed, he’s cheerful about the destruction of his wares.

“We wouldn’t be in business if they didn’t do that,” said Baxter, president of the nation’s largest maker of Christmas gift wrap, ribbons and bows. “What we don’t want is our product sitting in somebody’s closet.”

CSS Industries Inc. estimates it has 30 percent to 40 percent of the market for Christmas wrapping paper, sold mainly to mass-market retailers, such as Wal-Mart and K-mart. It also makes boxed Christmas cards.

The coming days are the biggest for Christmas wrapping paper.

Sixty-eight percent of gift wrap is purchased in December, including after-Christmas sales, and 25 percent is bought the week before Christmas, the company says.

But planning - and worries - begin much earlier.

CSS Chairman Jack Farber said the tension to make sure products are ready for Christmas shoppers begins in midsummer and mounts until final shipments go out weeks before Christmas.

“You only get one chance to ship Christmas,” said Baxter. “If you mess up, you have trouble because people have long memories.”

It takes nearly two years to produce a line of Christmas paper. Workers must design it, make prototypes, sell it, manufacture it and ship it at the busiest time of the year.

“Our design teams … design the lines in the summer and produce samples in the fall,” Baxter said. “In October ‘96, we were talking about Christmas ‘97.”

A Memphis, Tenn., plant belonging to CSS subsidiary Cleo Inc., last month finished printing next year’s samples.

The company’s 1997 Market Trends & Buyers Guide predicts red and blue will take the lead in wrapping paper colors.

“The 1997 color palette is optimistic and features soft, relaxed and feminine influences,” it says.

Feminine influences? CSS research shows women make 90 percent of Christmas gift wrap purchases.

“Many of the colors … will be touched by red, from rich and elegant burgundies to soft, romantic pink,” the guide says. Blue will replace green on the preference list of paper buyers, who even like black for “just the right touch of sophistication,” it says.

CSS sales were $288 million last year, and the company predicts they will rise above $400 million this year with the acquisition of the Cleo gift wrap division from Gibson Greetings Inc.

The company grew out of Philadelphia Industries Inc., a holding company for a small group of investors in the 1960s. In 1979, it bought a controlling stake in a company that controlled City Stores Co.

Farber kept the City Stores ticker symbol - CSS for the name of the evolving company. CSS began acquiring paper companies in 1985, then picked up makers of cards and ribbons and bows.

Along the way, Farber said, the company decided to play up its seasonal niche.

“We realized we had developed a talent oriented to seasonal business, which is a very frightening thing to most companies,” he said.

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